ROGERSVILLE — Although she had never worked out of a food truck before, Rogersville caterer and cake specialist Shona House had “Faith” in herself and sons Justin and Landon when they signed on to take part in the Food Network’s top-rated competition show.
Since 2010 the House family has operated Faith Baked Cakes and Catering from a shop that was built on the side of their home on Cloud Creek Road west of Rogersville.
On Aug. 20, Shona, Justin and Landon will comprise one of seven teams competing for $50,000 in the season premier of “The Great Food Truck Race.”
It was a leap of faith for the House family, which has never been in the food truck business.
This year’s show is a six-episode race across the South, beginning in New Orleans and ending in Savannah, Ga.
The House family will be up against teams from Charleston, S.C.; Philadelphia; Dallas; Cherry Hill, N.J; Little Rock; and Falmouth, Mass.
Although Shona was trained in the University of Tennessee’s culinary program, she didn’t become a professional chef until a family tragedy made it a necessity.
In 2010, the day before Landon was to graduate from Cherokee High School, Shona’s husband, Eric, was killed when an elderly couple pulled out in front of their vehicle. Doctors gave Justin only an 8 percent chance of survival, and Shona suffered a lengthy recuperation as well.
Shortly before the accident, a friend had called Shona and told her about a dream — a dream that Shona had built a cooking shop on the side of her home. In that dream, Shone prayed for every person she baked a cake for, put Bible verses on the boxes, and she called the shop Faith Baked Cakes.
“Thirty days later, we were in that accident that claimed my husband, and the next day Landon graduated from Cherokee,” Shona told the Times-News Wednesday. “They only gave Justin an 8 percent chance to live, but God saw him through. Landon stepped up into his dad’s role and took care of me and Justin until we recuperated.”
Out of necessity, when she was recovered from her injuries, Shona and her sons made that Faith Baked Cakes dream a reality. They built that shop on the side of their home and Shona started cooking for a living.
“And we’ve been going ever since with this shop,” she said.
Although she attended UT, Shona got most of her cooking skills from her mother and two grandmothers, who taught her the fine art of southern cooking.
Two years ago, she competed on the Food Network show “Sugar Showdown,” and since then she has received multiple offers to appear on other cooking shows and competitions.
But she turned them all down until “The Great Food Truck Race” came calling.
“This is an opportunity to go on the road with my boys and cook,” she said. “And it was a run through the South, so it was southern cooking, and that’s what we do best. We cooked from our heart, and we had a great time doing it. New Orleans was awesome. I’ve never been to New Orleans before. Both of my boys had but I hadn’t. That is the culinary capital of the United States. The food down there is absolutely amazing. I got to experience that with my boys.”
They’re not allowed to talk about what they cooked in the first episode or anything beyond the first episode. The Food Network doesn’t want to ruin the surprise.
What they can say is that everything Shona and the boys prepared was served on a stick. Alas, they named their truck Stick ’Em Up.
Spoiler alert: Aside from baking cakes, Shona specializes in honey thyme chicken. One of the promotional photos released by the Food Network shows her and the boys shopping for boneless, skinless chicken breast at a supermarket. And chicken goes well on a stick.
Shona is also known for her mashed potatoes, although putting that on a stick might present a serious challenge.
Each of the show’s contestants receives a similar food truck, the same resources, and the same cooking equipment at the beginning of the week, and they have to decide what to cook, how much to cook and where to park their truck.
There are side challenges along the way where they can win things like extra cash for buying ingredients or special cooking equipment to give them an edge over the competition.
“We had to come up with our own menu that we thought the people of New Orleans would enjoy eating,” Shona said. “It was up to us to try to calculate how much food we made per day. Justin was our marketer. He stood outside the truck trying to sell and attract people to our truck. Landon took care of our money and made sure the tickets were OK. He also called out the orders. And both of them actually helped cook at different times, depending on what the challenge was or what we were doing for the day.”
Justin, who graduated from Cherokee in 2012, and Landon have been cooking with their mom their entire lives, and both have helped at Faith Baked Cakes since it started.
But neither neither has chosen the culinary path professionally. Participating in “The Great Food Truck Race” was more of an adventure and another chance to prove that their family can overcome anything.
“It was definitely an adventure I’ll never forget,” said Justin, who graduated form UT this year and plans on attending flight school. “It was trying at times. But at the end of the day, we’re still a family, and we came together and worked together well.”
Landon is also a UT graduate and works in Knoxville as a logistics coordinator.
“It was a great experience, and I was very fortunate to be able to take off work and go down and support Mom and help in any way that I can for the show,” Landon said.
For Shona, the competition was about family, but it was also a personal test.
“I was taught to cook by both my grandmothers and my mother, who are major excellent southern cooks,” Shona said. “I just wanted to show off a little bit. Southerners know how to cook. You don’t have to be an executive chef to cook southern.”
The Houses will host a premier party on Aug. 20 at Occasions on the Square in downtown Rogersville beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The event is free and open to the public. It will feature free food cooked by Shona, a meet and greet with the House family and the show will be broadcast on two big screen TVs at 9 p.m.
Anyone who wants to order a wedding cake, special occasion cake or have a party catered can call Faith Based Cakes and Catering at (423) 754-6427.